5: 55 p.m. (6: 55p.m. EST)
730. Law with Eaglesham, In the Eye of History, pp.235–236; 6:10 p.m. and 6:55 p.m.: CE 1024, 18 H
By the time the navy ambulance with its escort of cars and motorcycle police arrives at the Bethesda hospital,731
731. CE 1024, 18 H
crowds, alerted by the television coverage of the arrival of the president's body at Andrews, are waiting silently. More than three thousand people have worked their way inside the grounds because of the hopelessly inadequate cordon improvised by Captain Robert Canada Jr., commanding officer of the hospital. Canada had only twenty-four Marine guards at his disposal, so he mobilized all of his off-duty corpsmen, but still hasn't got nearly enough men to keep the ever-growing crowd from surging toward the ambulance.732
732. Washington Post, November 23, 1963, p.A11; Posner, Case Closed, p.300; Manchester, Death of a President, p.397.
It's one solid mass of humanity, people standing shoulder to shoulder,
between the semicircle drive in front of the hospital (which comes off Wisconsin Avenue
and returns) and Wisconsin Avenue a few acres away.733
733. Solid mass of humanity: Law with Eaglesham, In the Eye of History, p.8.
The ambulance, now joined by a sedan with a chaplain and nurses, sweeps up to th e main entrance . Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy disembark and are met by Captain Canada, Rear Admiral Calvin Galloway, and a chaplain. After a brief exchange, Secret Service agents Clint Hill and Paul Landis accompany RFK and Mrs. Kennedy to one of the two VIP suites on the seventeenth floor of the hospital's high, stone tower.734
734. 2 H 98–99, WCT Roy H. Kellerman; CE 1024, 18 H 744, 757; FBI Report of SAs Francis X. O’Neill and James W. Sibert, November 22, 1963, p.1, File 89-30; ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5; Manchester, Death of a President, pp.396–398.
had been expected to join her children, John John and Caroline, before their bedtime and
tell them of their father's death, but she decides instead to spend the night at the hospital so as not to leave her slain husband. Although the children were shielded from the
news throughout the afternoon, Caroline will be told that evening and John Jr . sometime
later (see later text) .735
735. Shaw, White House Nannie, pp.14, 20–21; New York Times, November 23, 1963, p.9; New York Times, November 24, 1963, p.3.
The hospital suite consists of three rooms—a bedroom and a kitchen facing each other
across a small hallway, at the end of which was a long narrow drawing room. While it is
comfortable enough, with air-conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a bedroom television, the walls, furniture, carpet, and drapes were depressing because of their lifeless
and uniformly beige color. The entourage is met at the suite by the president's sister, Jean
Kennedy Smith; Jacqueline 's mother and stepfather, Janet and Hugh Auchincloss ; and
Ben Bradlee, Washington bureau chief of Newsweek and a longtime friend of the president and his family, along with his wife, Toni. Secret Service agents Hill and Landis move
quickly to secure the entire floor, taking control of communications and making sure that
no one will be allowed to enter without authorization. Since Mrs . Kennedy is determine d
to wait until the autopsy is over, they know it's going to be a long night.736
736. 2 H 143–144, WCT Clinton J. Hill; CE 1024, 18 H 744, 757; Manchester, Death of a President, pp.395, 397.
An overnight bag and makeup case with Jackie's initials, J.B.K. (B is for Bouvier, Jackie's maiden name), on it are brought to Jackie, but both remain unopened in the long hours ahead. Among the friends who will come to the seventeenth floor to try to console her are political columnist Charles Bartlett and his wife, Martha. It was they who had contrived to introduce Jackie to JFK at a dinner party in their Georgetown home in May of 1951 . At the time, Jackie was a Georgetown socialite with blue-blood roots (like JFK, her schooling had been at the best private schools—Miss Porter's, Vassar, the Sorbonne in Paris),who was excited to be working as an "inquiring photographer" and celebrity reporter about town for the Washington Times-Herald, and he was a young, dashing war hero who was a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts .737
737. Morin, Assassination, p.140; Heymann, Woman Named Jackie, pp.123, 141–142.
It wouldn't be until September of 1953, when JFK had become a
U .S. senator, that the two would wed in Newport, Rhode Island, the most correct social
address at the time. A church ceremony attended by over three thousand guests was
followed by a grand, beau monde reception at Hammersmith Farm, an estate overlooking Narragansett Bay. JFK may have been twelve years her senior (ages thirty-four and
twenty-two at the time they met two years earlier), but Jackie would later say, "I took
the choicest bachelor in the Senate." Few would disagree that by the time JFK was
elected president, "Jack and Jackie were America's royal couple.n738
738. Adler, Eloquent Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, p.3.
Below the seventeenth floor, at the main entrance, Larry O'Brien, Kenny O'Donnell, General McHugh, and other members of the Kennedy party are standing in front of the hospital talking.
400 standing in front of the hosptial talking: Upon their arrival at Bethesda, General McHugh spoke with Admiral Galloway about having Kennedy embalmed on
the grounds of the hospital following the autopsy. Galloway resisted, saying the
hospital didn’t have the facilities to perform an embalming service. “I highly recommend a funeral parlor,” he told McHugh. The general persisted, telling Admiral Galloway that it was what the Kennedy family wanted. Galloway eventually
acquiesced, and arrangements to bring portable embalming equipment to
Bethesda to perform the service were made with Gawler’s Funeral Home. (Manchester, Death of a President, p.398; ARRB MD 134, Funeral Arrangements for
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, November 22, 1963, p.1; ARRB MD 182, ARRB Meet-
ing Report, Interview of Joseph E. Hagan, May 17, 1996, p.1; ARRB MD 180, ARRB Meeting Report, Interview of Thomas E. Robinson, June 18, 1996, p.1)
The navy ambulance carrying the president's body is nearby, with Secret Service agent Bill Greer still in the driver's seat. Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman has gotten out and gone in to find out where the entrance to the morgue is located.739
739. ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5.
After several minutes, Baltimore FBI agents James W. Sibert and Francis X . O'Neill Jr., who had been ordered to accompany the procession from Andrews Air Force Base, witness the autopsy, take custody of any bullets retrieved from the president's body, and deliver them to the FBI laboratory,740
740. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.1; ARRB MD 46, Affi- davit of James W. Sibert, October 24, 1978, p.2; ARRB MD 47, Affidavit of Francis X. O’Neill Jr., November 8, 1978, p.1.
approach the group of men and ask what the delay is all about.
One member of the casket team reported a different account to Time magazine
in 1981, claiming, “On that night there were a large number of spectators around,
and our intention was to get the ambulance to the morgue before the crowd gathered. The honor guard, along with a Navy enlisted-man driver, the other duty officer, and me, rode to the morgue on the guard truck at high speed, believing that
the ambulance was following. When we got there, the ambulance was not to be
seen. Since the Secret Service driver was unfamiliar with the grounds, we decided
he was lost. Retracing our path, we found the ambulance still at the front of the
hospital amid many onlookers. In our haste we had left without confirming that
the ambulance was behind us. On the second try we did it right. At no time was
the ambulance [containing the president’s body] out of sight of at least several hundred people from its arrival at the center until the bronze coffin was unloaded at
the morgue” (Sorell L. Schwartz, Letter to editor, Time, February 16, 1981,
pp.4–5). Likewise, FBI agent Francis O’Neill, who didn’t recall a second ambulance being used (ARRB Deposition of Francis X. O’Neill, September 12, 1997,
p.55), assured investigators that “the ambulance carrying the president’s body was
in my line of vision until the time we stopped our vehicles in the rear of the hospital” (ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F.
Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5).
Larry O'Brien says they don't know where the autopsy room is. The FBI men tell them to follow them around to the rear of the hospital.
When the caravan reaches the morgue entrance, Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman comes out onto the rear loading dock. FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill approach him and identify themselves and their mission.
"Yes, I've already been informed," he tells them and moves down the stairs toward the rear of the ambulance, where Secret Service agent Bill Greer waits. First Lieutenant Samuel R . Bird's honor guards quickly assemble and help Secret Service and FBI agents pull the casket out of the back of the ambulance and onto a conveyance cart, and shuffle it toward the steps leading to the small landing at the rear door.741
741. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, pp.1–2; ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5; ARRB MD 47, Affidavit of Francis X. O’Neill Jr., November 8, 1978, p.2; 741. ARRB MD 46, Affidavit of James W. Sibert, October 24, 1978, p.2; HSCA Record 180-10105-10405; ARRB MD 87, Interview of Richard A. Lipsey, January 18, 1978, p.2.
At the base of the stairs, the cart is abandoned and the casket is hand-carried up to the loading-dock entrance .742
742. ARRB Deposition of James W. Sibert, September 11, 1997, p.45.
Along the way, General McHugh insists on helping to carry the commander in chief into the hospital and relieves one of the casket team members. One end of the casket dips precariously as General McHugh struggles to carry his share of the weight .743
743. ARRB MD 163, After Action Report, joint casket team state funeral, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Samuel R. Bird, December 10, 1963, p.2.
Just inside the loading-dock entrance, the team returns the casket to the cart and wheels it a short distance down the corridor toward a naval attendant holding open a double-door marked "Restricted—Authorized Personnel Only."
The Bethesda Naval Hospital morgue is stark and spotless. It was newly renovated just
four months earlier. They enter an anteroom equipped with eight refrigerated lockers
labeled "Remains." To their right is a swinging-type double-door, with glass panels, that
leads to the main room where the autopsies are performed. The tiled autopsy room is
lined with equipment specialized for postmortem work: scales, a sterilizer, a washing
machine, and a power saw. Situated near the center of the room are two eight-foot-long,
stainless-steel autopsy tables, their tops perforated with hundreds of drain holes that feed
into pipes set in the floor. Against one wall, on a two-step riser, is a small gallery section
that contains a short tier of bleacher-style benches, enough for thirty to forty medical students and young doctors to observe autopsies being performed. This night, the students
and young doctors are absent.744
744. ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5; Manchester, Death of a President, pp.399–400; Law with Eaglesham, In the Eye of History, p.37.
The casket team rolls the casket through the doors into the autopsy room and veers to the left, where they come face-to-face with Drs. Humes and Boswell and several other Bethesda personnel dressed in surgical garb, who direct the team to move the casket next to autopsy table number one.745
745. ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, pp.4–5.
Major General Wehle orders his aide, Richard Lipsey,
"not to leave the body for any reason," 746
746. HSCA Record 180-10105-10405; ARRB MD 87, Interview of Richard A. Lipsey, January 18, 1978, p.2.
as Lieutenant Sam Bird's casket team takes up
guard duty outside the two entrances to the autopsy room, with the assistance of a detachment of marines.747
747. ARRB MD 163, After Action Report, joint casket team state funeral, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Samuel R. Bird, December 10, 1963, p.2.
6: 35 p.m. (7: 35 p.m. EST)
At the Bethesda Naval Hospital morgue, autopsy pathologists Drs. Humes and Boswell open the bronze casket and find the naked body of John F Kennedy wrapped in a bloody sheet labeled "Parkland Hospital," lying on a heavy-gauge clear plastic sheet, placed there to prevent the corpse from soiling the satin interior of the coffin. An additional wrapping, soaked in blood, envelops the president's shattered head.759
759. 2 H 349, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; ARRB MD 26, Memorandum, Andy Purdy to Jim Kelly and Kenneth Klein, August 17, 1977, Notes of interview with Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, pp.2–3;
ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.3; ARRB MD 189,
Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X.
Paul K. O'Connor and James Curtis Jenkins, student lab technicians in charge of the admission and discharge of morgue bodies, lift the body out of the casket and place it on the autopsy table, where the bloody wrappings are removed.760 (FOOTNOTE)
*Dr. Boswell said Humes was "afraid the sheets would end up in somebody's barn on Highway 66 as
exhibits" and immediately threw them into the morgue washing machine to be laundered (ARRB MD 26 ,
Memorandum, Andy Purdy to Jim Kelly and Kenneth Klein, August 17, 1977, Notes of interview with Dr .
J . Thornton Boswell, pp. 2-3; ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, p.14).
760. HSCA Record 180-10107-10448,Memorandum, Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy to Ken Klein, August
29, 1977, re: interview of Paul K. O’Connor on August 25, 1977, p.3, ARRB MD 64; HSCA
Record 180-10096-10391, HSCA Outside Contact Report, June 27, 1978, 3:15 p.m., pp.1–2.
In spite of his training, Dr. Humes is still shocked by the sight of the president's body. His eyes are open, one lid hanging lower than the other. His mouth is also open, in sort of a grimace, his hands are knotted in fists, and there is a ghastly head wound. Still, the well-known facial features are intact and Dr. Humes can't help but think that apart from the horrible head wound, John Kennedy, who is only a few years older than he is, looks perfectly normal. In fact, at a little over six feet and 170 pounds, Kennedy was "a remarkable human specimen," he would later put it, who "looked as if he could have lived forever."761
761. Breo, “JFK’s Death—The Plain Truth from the MDs Who Did the Autopsy,” p.2797; 2 H 349,
WCT Dr. James J. Humes; ARRB Deposition of Francis X. O’Neill, September 12, 1997,
pp.59–61; ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and
Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, p.5; Kennedy’s height (721⁄2 inches) and weight: autopsy
report, CE 387, 16 H 978.
Humes shrugs off the moment of hypnotic shock and fascination, reminding himself there is a lot of work to do.
Several of the nearly two-dozen people in attendance, (FOOTNOTE)
FBI agents O'Neill and Sibert noted the following were in attendance at the beginning of the autopsy : Admiral Calvin B. Galloway, USN, commanding officer of the US . Naval Medical Center, Bethesda; Cap- tain John H. Stover, commanding officer, US . Naval Medical School ; Admiral George G. Burkley, USN, the president's personal physician; Commander James J. Humes, chief pathologist; Commander J. Thornton Boswell, chief of pathology at Bethesda; Jan G. Rudnicki, laboratory assistant to Dr . Boswell ; John T. Stringer Jr., medical photographer;John H. Ebersole, assistant chief radiologist at Bethesda; Floyd A. Riebe, medical photographer; Paul K . O'Connor, laboratory technologist ; James Curtis Jenkins, laboratory technologist; Jer- rol F. Custer, X-ray technician ; Edward F. Reed, X-ray technician ; James E. Metzler, hospital corpsman, third - class; and Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman, William Greer, and John J . O'Leary (who stayed only briefly) (ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O'Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.2). Admiral George Burkley reported that Admiral Edward Kenney, the surgeon general of the navy; Captain Robert O. Canada, commanding offi- cer of Bethesda Naval Hospital; and Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, air force aide to the president, wer e also present when the president's body was moved to the autopsy table (NARA Record 189-10001-10048 , Report of George Burkley, November 27, 1963, 8 :45 a.m., p.7, ARRB MD 48). During the course of the autopsy Pierre A. Finck, chief of the wound ballistics pathology branch at Walter Reed medical center, arrived to assist Humes and Boswell . In addition, Lieutenant Commander Gregory H. Cross, resident in surgery, and Cap- tain David Osborne, chief of surgery, entered the autopsy room. (ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O'Neill an d Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.2) At one point, Major General Philip C. Wehle, commanding officer of the US. Military District of Washington, D.C., entered the autopsy room to make arrangements with the Secret Service regarding the transportation of the president's body back to the White House. Near the end of the autopsy, Chester H. Boyers, chief petty officer in charge of the pathology division, entered the room to type up receipts for items given to the FBI and Secret Service. At the end of the autopsy, John VanHoesen, Edwin Stroble, Thomas E. Robinson, and Joe Hagan (personnel from Gawler's Funeral Home) prepared the presi- dent'sbodyforburial.Also inattendanceatthat time were Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh andDr. George Bakeman, USN. (ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O'Neilland Sibert, November 26, 1963, pp.2-3) The HSCA also noted that Richard A . Lipsey, personal aide to General Wehle, and Samuel A . Bird were also present at various times (7 HSCA 9) .
particularly the military officers in command of the naval hospital, retreat to the benches in the gallery as Drs. Humes and Boswell begin an initial examination of the body.762
762. 2 H 349, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.2.
In addition to the cutdowns (i.e., small incisions for the insertion of tubes) on the arms, ankles, and chest, Dr. Humes notes a tracheotomy incision in the throat. The body is then rolled briefly onto its side and Humes notes a bullet wound in the president's right upper back.
414 bullet wound in the president’s right upper back: Some critics have contended that the bullet wound in the back wasn’t discovered until the latter stages of the autopsy, a claim Dr. James Humes vehemently disputes. Humes told the HSCA that the back wound was found during the initial examination of the body. (ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, pp.7–8) “It was obvious,” Humes told the ARRB in 1996. “It was no secret. It was right there. But we directed our attention first to the wound that we were certain was the fatal wound, of course, the head wound” (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. James Humes, February 13, 1996, pp.114–115). Dr. John Ebersole, the autopsy X-ray technician, concurred. “Does it seem reasonable to you that a pathologist would carry out an autopsy of this nature without looking at the front and back of the body? My remembrance is that we were aware of the [back] wound of entrance relatively early in the game” (ARRB MD 60, Transcript of HSCA Medical Panel Meeting, March 11, 1978, p.57).
As they complete the initial examination, Admiral Burkley reminds the pathologists that the president's brother and wife are waiting upstairs and that they should expedite the autopsy procedure.
"They've captured the guy who did this, all we need is the bullet," Burkley tells them. Drs. Humes and Boswell disagree. They feel a complete and thorough autopsy is needed. A discussion ensues, one that Burkley ultimately wins—for the moment.'"
ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, pp.13, 17;
7 HSCA 261,
Interview of Drs. James J. Humes and J. Thornton Boswell by the Forensic
Pathology Panel, September 16, 1977; ARRB MD 26, Memorandum, Andy Purdy
to Jim Kelly and Kenneth Klein,
August 17, 1977, Notes of interview with Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, p.3;
ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes,
February 13, 1996, p.31; 7 HSCA 263.
Dr. Humes requests that all nonmedical personnel leave the autopsy room and retire
to the adjacent anteroom so that X-rays and photographs of the body can be made .764
764. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.3; ARRB MD 189,
Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X.
At Humes's instruction, medical photographer John T Stringer Jr. begins taking photographs of the body from a variety of angles in both color and black-and-white, being careful to bracket the exposures (FOOTNOTE)
This is a standard practice in professional photography wherein each angle is photographed three times at three different exposures—one slightly underexposed, one slightly overexposed, and one at the presumed proper exposure setting—ensuring that at least one of the three images will be perfectly exposed .
of the large (four-by-five-inch) images.
As soon as the photographs are complete, John H . Ebersole, assistant chief radiologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital, begins taking X-rays of the president's skull, with help from X-ray technicians Jerrol F Custer and Edward F Reed. Unlike the autopsy photographs, which will not be developed until after the autopsy is completed, the X-rays, which
see what the eye cannot, are developed in the hospital's fourth-floor lab and returned to
the morgue a quarter of an hour later for viewing."'
765. 2 H 372, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; ARRB MD 189, Undated Report, “Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Aftermath,” by Francis X. O’Neill, p.6.
7:00 p.m. (8: 00p.m. EST)
At Bethesda Naval Hospital, Humes and Boswell, followed by a flock of FBI, Secret Service, and navy personnel, retreat to a small alcove within the autopsy room and snap the newly developed X-rays of the president's head up on a light box. Thirty or forty white specks can be seen scattered throughout the right hemisphere of the brain, like stars in a galaxy. These dustlike metallic particles mark the path of the missile as it passed through the right side of the skull. The largest fragment of metal, still much too small to represent any significant part of a whole bullet, lies behind the right frontal sinus. The next-largest fragment is embedded in the rear of the skull.772
772. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.3.
Humes figures that he can probably retrieve the two larger fragments but is beginning to wonder if it might be a good idea to have an expert in wound ballistics present during the autopsy. He and Boswell confer briefly away from the group. Humes mentions the offer of assistance made by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) and suggests they take it. Boswell agrees and suggests they contact Lieutenant Colonel Pierre A. Finck, chief of the Wound Ballistics Pathology Branch of the AFIP, whom Boswell had worked with before .773
2H349,WCT Dr. James J. Humes ARRB Transcript of Proceedings,Deposition
of Dr.J.Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp.17–18.
Boswell remembers him as sharp, hard-working, and a top-notch forensic pathologist.774
774. ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp.212–213.
Humes is convinced and places a telephone call to Finck's
420 places a telephone call to Finck’s: Although Dr. Thornton Boswell told the ARRB in 1996 that he placed the call to Finck (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp.17–18), all other testimony shows the call was placed by Dr. Humes. In 1992, JAMA erroneously reported that Finck was called at 7:30 p.m. (shortly after the body was received). However, the call was actually made at 8:00 p.m. EST, as recorded by Finck in his 1965 memorandum to General Blumberg. The later time also coincides with Humes’s statement that by the time of the call he already had “good X-ray films of the head.” (ARRB MD 30, Transcript of HSCA Medical Panel Meeting, March 11, 1978, p.77; AFIP Record 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blum- berg, p.1)
home, asking the pathologist to come to the
Bethesda morgue at once. 775
775. AFIP Record 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Dr. Finck to Brigadier Gen. J. M. Blumberg, Personal notes on the Assassination of President Kennedy, February 1, 1965 (hereafter “Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg”), p.1; also ARRB MD 28; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” p.1749.
7:30 p.m. (8:30p.m. EST)
At the Bethesda Naval Hospital, a hot white light illuminates the hands of the two pathologists huddled over the body of the late president. In the interests of time, Dr. Humes decided not to wait for Lieutenant Colonel Finck to arrive at Bethesda. Instead, he and Dr. Boswell set about the task of recovering the two largest bullet fragments seen in the X-rays of the president's skull. The hole in the right side of the head was immense (over five inches in its greatest diameter), making access to the brain relatively easy. Portions of the skull, literally shattered by the force of the bullet, fall apart in the hands of the two pathologists as they try to reach the minute fragments behind the right eye and near the back of the skull .795
Both are recovered,
NOTE: THIS IS NOT TRUE. THE LARGEST WAS RECOVERED FROM BEHIND THE EYE, AS WAS ANOTHER SMALLER ONE FROM BEHIND THE EYE.
433 Both are recovered: Conspiracy theorists, eager to find an extra fourth bullet, one more than Oswald is believed to have fired, and hence a conspiracy, got very excited when they learned that the receipt for the two fragments turned over to FBI agents Sibert and O’Neill on November 22, 1963, and signed by the two agents, refers to a “receipt of a missle [sic]” (HSCA Record 180-10120-10362; JFK Doc- ument 014834). But the HSCA concluded that “the receipt was in error.” Chester H. Boyers, the navy corpsman who typed the receipt, gave HSCA investigators an affidavit under penalty of perjury that contained his handwritten notes at the time of the autopsy, in which he jotted down during the autopsy that “there were bul- let missile fragments recovered. These were placed in a specimen container and delivered to me. The FBI was there and wanted them.” The affidavit says that “although the receipt states that a ‘missile’ was transferred, this is an error” (HSCA Record 180-10120-10362, Affidavit of Chester Boyers, December 4, 1978 p.3, p.2 of accompanying notes). Both Agents Sibert and O’Neill confirmed to the HSCA that they received two bullet fragments, not a missile. As Sibert put it in an affidavit, “Regarding the receipt for the ‘missile,’ I do not recall exactly how the receipt described the fragments but it was certainly not for a whole missile, rather it was for some fragments. [“Two metal fragments,” he says earlier.] A single mis- sile to me means considerable substance, more of a whole bullet. This receipt was prepared by someone else and typed up by a naval corpsman. If I had prepared the receipt, I would have listed the items as metal fragments” (7 HSCA 11–12; JFK Document 002191, HSCA interview of Sibert on August 25, 1977; HSCA 180- 10100-10135, Affidavit of Sibert on October 24, 1978, p.5; JFK Document 006185, HSCA interview of O’Neill on January 10, 1978).
In 1975, Dennis David, a navy first-class petty officer at the time of the assassination who later became a key cog in conspiracy author David Lifton’s zany body-alteration theory, claimed that he was the one who typed up the receipt for the
bullet fragments. During an interview for Lifton’s book, David claimed that a
Secret Service agent reportedly dictated the receipt in the administrative offices,
describing the physical characteristics of four bullet fragments. David said he kept
no copies. “I just typed it on an original . . . and handed it to the Secret Service
agent. And the agent made some comment about, ‘This is considered classified
material. Secret.’ Or something to that effect” (Lifton, Best Evidence, p.579). By
1997, David was claiming that the unnamed agent allowed him to handle the frag-
ments, then admonished him about security concerns, told him to treat the information as classified, and confiscated all copies of the memo “including the pieces
of carbon paper, and even took the ribbon from the IBM Selectric typewriter with
him” (ARRB MD 177, ARRB interview of Dennis David, February 14, 1997,
pp.2–3). David’s credibility couldn’t be any lower in this regard. His name doesn’t
appear on any list of personnel involved in the autopsy (7 HSCA 8–9), nor is his
story about typing the receipt for four bullet fragments corroborated by anyone.
In addition, David admitted being hypnotized in 1994 in New York State to
recover memories of the autopsy events (ARRB MD 177, ARRB interview of
Dennis David, February 14, 1997, p.4; see also Law with Eaglesham, In the Eye of History, pp.12–13).
Although the “fourth bullet rather than two fragments” argument is deader than a doornail, David Lifton has persisted in trying to keep it alive, and his weapon is the faulty memory of others. In 1978, Admiral David Osborne told HSCA investigators that at the time of the autopsy (Osborne was then a captain and chief of surgery at Bethesda) he saw a “fully intact, copper-clad slug” roll out of the president’s clothing onto the table when the president’s shoulders were raised to remove the suit coat Osborne said Kennedy was wearing (ARRB MD 66, HSCA Outside Contact Report of interview of Admiral David Osborne, June 20, 1978, p.3). Of course, throughout the HSCA’s entire investigation no one else had told the committee about seeing a slug on the autopsy table or anywhere else at Bethesda. The HSCA said it “recontacted Admiral Osborne and informed him that the body of the president had not arrived in any clothes [as Osborne said], but was wrapped in sheets, and that no one else recalled anything about the discovery of a missile. Osborne then said that he could not be sure he actually did see a mis- sile and that it was possible the FBI and Secret Service only spoke about the dis- covery of a missile” (7 HSCA 15–16; ARRB MD 16, HSCA Outside Contact Report of interview of David Osborne on June 20, 1978, p.3).
Lifton contacted Osborne the next year and Osborne proceeded to tell him his original story, claiming that Kennedy arrived in his casket in his clothing, and a “reasonably clean, unmarred” bullet fell from the clothing. But now Osborne added a real zinger. He not only saw the bullet, which is what he told the HSCA, he held “that bullet in my hand.” (Lifton, Best Evidence, pp.645–646) My, my.
Lifton next contacted Captain John Stover in April of 1980. Stover had been the commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Medical School and, like Osborne, was in the autopsy room during the autopsy. Lifton says that Stover confirmed Osborne’s assertion that there was a bullet in the autopsy room, saying, “It seems to me that the one they found in Dallas they brought up . . . I think it was in a brown paper envelope” (Lifton, Best Evidence, p.651).
If I can conclude this silly story with one observation over and above the fact that it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that two large bullet fragments, not a missile or bullet, were found during the autopsy, it would be this. As set forth in the text, we know that Dr. James Humes and his two fellow autopsy surgeons were completely perplexed over (and made a very big issue out of) the fact that they could not find or figure out what happened to the bullet that entered the upper right part of the president’s back, Humes only determining what happened to it the following morning when he spoke on the phone to Dr. Malcolm Perry. If, indeed, Drs. Osborne and Stover recall seeing an intact bullet in the autopsy room that night—and if we’re to believe Osborne, he actually held it in his hand—why didn’t either one of them bother to mention this bullet to the three pathologists who were so troubled all evening by its absence? You know, “Dr. Humes? Here’s the bullet you’re looking for.”
placed into a glass jar with a black metal top, and
turned over later in the evening to FBI agents for transport to the FBI laboratory.796* (FOOTNOTE)
*No bullet, or significant portion thereof, was found in either Kennedy's or Connally's body.
796. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.4.
To remove the brain, Humes and Boswell use a scalpel to extend the lacerations of the scalp downward toward the ears. Normally, a saw would be used to cut the skullcap and remove the brain. Here, the damage is so devastating that the doctors can lift the brain out of the head without recourse to a saw. 797
797. 2 H 354, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, p.17; AFIP Record 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg, p.2; also ARRB MD 28; Breo, “JFK’s Death—The Plain Truth from the MDs Who Did the Autopsy,” p.2798.
The left hemisphere of the brain is intact, while the
damage to the right one is massive.'"
798. CE 391, 16 H 981, 987.
Just as the brain is fixed in formalin for further study, Lieutenant Colonel Finck walks into the autopsy room
wearing military pants and a green scrub suit .799
799. AFIP Record 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg, p.1; also ARRB MD 28; ARRB MD 61, Memorandum, Jim Kelley and Andy Purdy to Ken Klein, August 29, 1977, p.6; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” p.1749.
The three autopsy
surgeons begin an examination of the president's head wound. What is immediately obvious to all three is a small oval-shaped hole in the back of the president's scalp. Peeling the
skin away from the skull, the doctors find a corresponding but larger hole in the bone
beneath the scalp. From inside the skull, the area surrounding the hole is cratered. From
the outside, the skull bone around the hole is smooth. The surgeons recognize the wound
to the backside of the head as having all the characteristics of an entrance wound.800
800. 2 H 352, WCT Dr. James J. Humes.
After taking photographs of the outer layer ("table") of the skull at the entrance wound,
the photographer, John Stringer, positions himself at the head of the table. It is difficult
to properly illuminate the inside layer or table of the back of the skull, in order to record
the cratering effect the doctors have observed, so the doctors hold the head up slightly
while Stringer snaps several exposures looking down into the cranial cavity.801
801. ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, p.15; 2 H 352, WCT Dr. James J. Humes.
As to the massive hole on the right side of the president's head, it is presumably the
result of the bullet exiting the head, although no specific exit point in the margins of the defect is discovered.802
(NOTE: BADEN TESTIFIED TO THE OPPOSITE.)
802. 2 H 355, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; Breo, “JFK’s Death—The Plain Truth from the MDs Who Did the Autopsy,” p.2798; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” pp.1749, 1752, 1754; AFIP Record 205- 10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg, pp.2, 15; also ARRB MD 28; ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, p.195.
8:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. EST)
10:00 P.M. (11:00 P.M. EST)
At Bethesda Naval Hospital, the three pathologists have rolled the president onto his left side and are examining the oval-shaped bullet wound located to the right of his spine and just above the right shoulder blade. Dr. Finck can see that the edges of the wound are pushed inward and recognizes the reddish brown skin around the margins as an abrasion collar, characteristics typical of entrance wounds.826
826. AFIPRecord205-10001-10002,Memorandum,FincktoBlumberg,pp.2–3;alsoARRBMD28; HSCA Record 180-10097-10183, Testimony of Pierre A. Finck, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 24, 1964, pp.12–13; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” p.1752.
After taking photographs of the bullet hole,827
827. ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, p.15; ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp.149–150.
Dr. Humes probes the wound with his little finger, but finds that the bullet path seems to stop less than an inch into the hole .828
828. ARRB MD 26, Memorandum, Andy Purdy to Jim Kelly and Kenneth Klein, August 17, 1977,
Notes of interview with Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, p.6; ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.4.
Dr. Finck attempts to explore the wound using a flexible metal probe, but after repeated attempts he can't seem to find the path of the bullet. Afraid of making a false passage, Finck removes the probe and examines the front of the body. There are no corresponding exit wounds, only a tracheotomy incision in the front of the throat. Finck, Boswell, and Humes examine the margins o f the incision, but cannot find any evidence of a bullet exit.
The doctors are perplexed. Where did the bullet go?
449 Where did the bullet go?: The difficulty of finding the bullet that entered Kennedy’s upper back is reminiscent of the much longer search for a bullet to the back of President James A. Garfield, shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. While Garfield lingered near death for eighty days, his doctors, not having X-rays at the time, probed for the bullet that entered Garfield’s right back with unsterilized instruments or their bare hands, a common practice at the time. Guiteau severely criticized Garfield’s doctors, claiming that it was they, not he, who killed Garfield. “I just shot him,” he said.
Guiteau’s position may have been correct. “Historians agree that massive infection, which resulted from unsterile practices, contributed to Garfield’s death.” The bullet was finally found during the autopsy following Garfield’s death on September 19, 1881. It had lodged in the left side of Garfield’s back just below the pancreas, and hadn’t struck “any major organs, arteries or veins.” Dr. Ira Rutkow, a professor of surgery today at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, observes, “Garfield had such a nonlethal wound. In today’s world, he would have gone home in a matter of two or three days.”During the eighty-day period, the location of the bullet in Garfield’s body became a national obsession, with many people offering advice on how to locate it. One citizen wrote to the White House that the doctors should simply turn the president upside-down and see if the bullet would fall out. Even Alexander Graham Bell tried to help locate the bullet. (Amanda Schaffer, “A President Felled by an Assassin and 1880’s Medical Care,” Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2006, p.D5)
Dr. Finck asks to examine the president's clothing, hoping that it might give a clue as to what happened to the bullet, but finds that the clothing is not available.829
829. Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” p.1750.
Dr. Finck then suggests that a whole-body radiographic survey be conducted before proceeding any further with the autopsy. All three of the pathologists know from experience that bullets can do crazy things when they enter the human body and might end up anywhere. The only way to be sure they haven' t missed it is to x-ray the entire body.83'
830. AFIP 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg, pp.3, 16; also ARRB MD 28; 2 H 361, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” p.1754.
Finck's decision doesn't set well with Admiral Burkley, who can see his idea of a quick recovery of evidence giving way to hour after hour of difficulties and delays. ` (FOOTNOTE)
*Some of the military men present talked of bringing in metal detectors to expedite the search for any bullets in the president's body (ARRB MD 19, Memorandum to File, Andy Purdy, August 17, 1977, p.10).
Burkley says that Mrs. Kennedy had only granted permission for a limited autopsy, and questions the feasibility of finding the bullet that entered the president's back without conducting a complete autopsy.
"Well, it's my opinion that the bullet is still in the president's body," Dr. Humes tells him. "And the only way to extract it is to do a complete autopsy, which I propose to do." As tempers flare, Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman confers quickly with FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill. They agree that from an investigative and prosecutorial standpoint, the bullet must be recovered, no matter how long it takes. They advise Admiral Burkley of their position, but he remains resistant to furthering the probe. Admiral Calvin B. Galloway, commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Medical Center, steps up to break the deadlock and orders Dr . Humes to perform a complete autopsy."
831. ARRB MD 156, FBI memorandum, SA Sibert and O’Neill to SAC, Baltimore, November 26, 1963, p.1.
Now, to Admiral Burkley's annoyance, they will have to wait more than a hour for the entire body to be x-rayed .832
832. HSCA Record 180-10097-10185, Testimony of Pierre A. Finck, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 25, 1969, pp.15–16
In a small alcove of the autopsy room at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the acting chief of radiology, Dr. John Ebersole, clips the last of the X-rays onto a light box. Nothing. No bullet. The president's entire body has been x-rayed and still the doctors have been unable to determine what happened to the bullet that struck his back .885
885. 2 H 364, WCT Dr. James J. Humes; HSCA Record 180-10097-10185, Testimony of Pierre A. Finck, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 25, 1969, pp.15–16.
"Where did it go?" someone asks.
The doctors have no idea.886
886. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.4.
A discussion ensues about what might have happened to it. Someone suggests the possibility that a soft-nosed bullet struck the president and dis- integrated. Others contemplate that the bullet could have been "plastic, " and therefore not easily seen by X-rays, or that it was an "Ice" bullet, which had dissolved after con- tact.887
887. ARRB MD 47, Affidavit of Francis X. O’Neill Jr., November 8, 1978, p.6.
None of the suggestions made much sense, but then neither did the absence of a
bullet. FBI agent Jim Sibert decided to call the FBI laboratory and find out if anyone
there knew of a bullet that would almost completely fragmentize. He managed to reach
Special Agent Charles L. Killion of the Firearms Section of the lab, who said he'd never
heard of such a thing. After Sibert explained the problem, Killion asked if he was aware
that a bullet had been found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital. Sibert hadn't and is nearly certain that no one else at the morgue has either. Sibert hangs up the phone, returns
to the autopsy room, and informs the three pathologists that a bullet had been recovered
at Parkland Hospital."'
888. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.4; ARRB MD 46, Affi-
davit of James W. Sibert, October 24, 1978, p.3.
"That could account for it," Humes said of the missing bullet. He suggested that in some rather inexplicable fashion the bullet might have been stopped in its path and thereafter worked its way out of the body and onto the stretcher, perhaps during cardiac massage .889
889. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, pp.4–5; 2 H 367–368, WCT Dr. James J. Humes.
11:00 P.M. (12:00 A.M EST)
It's just after midnight
493 just after midnight: Dr. James Humes testified that the autopsy ended at “approximately 11:00 p.m.” (2 H 349, 374; HSCA Record 180-10097-10151, January 26, 1967, p.1). However, the consensus of opinion of those in attendance is that the autopsy ended at about midnight. Humes himself indicated that the autopsy may have extended to midnight when he told the Warren Commission that three bone fragments arrived “later that evening or very early the next morning while we were all still engaged in continuing our examination” (2 H 354).
on the East Coast as the three pathologists near the end of their autopsy of the president's body at Bethesda Naval Hospital, when three skull fragments recovered from the floor of the presidential limousine during a Secret Service examination at the White House garage are brought into the morgue.'
948. ARRB MD 152, FBI Interview of Gerald A. Behn on November 27, 1963, p.1; ARRB MD 56, Memorandum from Jim Kelly and Andy Purdy to Ken Klein re: interview of Roy Kellerman on August 24 and 25, 1977, August 29, 1977, p.4; ARRB MD 259, ARRB Meeting Report, Inter- view of Floyd Boring, September 18, 1996, p.2; ARRB MD 259, ARRB Call Report, Telephone Interview of Floyd Boring, September 19, 1996, p.1; Breo, “JFK’s Death—The Plain Truth from the MDs Who Did the Autopsy,” p.2798
Interest in the three skull fragments grows when the three pathologists note a distinct crater on the outer surface of the largest fragment, characteristic of an exit wound.949
949. 2 H 354, WCT Dr. James J. Humes.
Their suspicions are soon confirmed when X-rays of that fragment reveal minute metallic particles embedded in th e margins of the crater.'"
950. 2 H 355, WCT Dr. James J. Humes.
There is no doubt about it. The fragment contains a portion of
the exit wound.951
951. 2 H 379–380, WCT Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck; AFIP Record 205-10001-10002, Memorandum, Finck to Blumberg, pp.2, 15; also ARRB MD 28; ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.5; Breo, “JFK’s Death, Part III,” pp.1752, 1754.
FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill, eager to submit a report on the autopsy findings, ask Dr. Humes what his findings will be?
"Well, the pattern is clear," Humes tells them. "Two bullets struck the president from behind. One bullet entered the president's back and probably worked its way out of the body during the external cardiac massage at Parkland Hospital. A second bullet struck the rear of the president's skull and fragmented before exiting."
"Is that then the cause of death, Doctor?"
952. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, p.5; CE 387, 15 H 978.
As the autopsy team removes its equipment from around the examination table, a group of morticians from Gawler's Funeral Home move their portable embalming equipment into position to prepare the president's body for burial."'
953. ARRB MD 44, FBI Report of O’Neill and Sibert, November 26, 1963, pp.2–3.
Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman signs for the photographs954
954. ARRB MD 78, Memorandum, Capt. J. H. Stover to Roy H. Kellerman, November 22, 1963.
955. ARRB MD 190, Memorandum, Cmdr. John H. Ebersole to Roy H. Kellerman, November 22,
taken during the autopsy, which will be
delivered to Secret Service special agent-in-charge Robert I. Bouck at the White House
in the early morning hours of November 23 .956
956. HSCA Record 180-10109-10368, Letter, James J. Rowley, Secret Service, to Assistant Attorney General Barefoot Sanders, February 23, 1967, attachment p.1, ARRB MD 122.
Though most in attendance at the autopsy quietly leave the room, for the weary doctors the night is not over; they stay to assist the morticians. No one seems to know whether
the coffin will be open or closed while the president lies in state. Although Mrs. Kennedy
has expressed her wish that the casket be closed, the issue has been left unresolved. Neither Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, the president's air force aide, nor Admiral
George Burkley, the president's personal physician, can assure the morticians that the
body will not be viewed. McHugh decides that it would be better to be on the safe side
and have the body fully prepared and dressed.957
957. Manchester, Death of a President, pp.433, 435.
For the next three hours, the men from Gawler's are absorbed in the tedious task of putting as good a face as possible on death. The president's cranium is packed with a combination of cotton and plaster of Paris to provide the support necessary to reconstruct the head. After the hardening agent dries, the scalp is pulled together and sutured.'"
958. ARRB MD182, ARRB Meeting Report,Interview of Joseph E .Hagan, May17,1996,p.3; ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. James Joseph Humes, February 13, 1996, p.91.
The organs from the thoracic and abdominal cavity, preserved in formaldehyde, are placed in a plastic bag and returned to the body cavity, which is then stitched closed .959
959. ARRB MD181, ARRB Meeting Report,Interview of John Van Hoesen,September26,1996,p.2.
The tracheotomy wound is sutured up and a small amount of dermal wax is used to seal the
wound. Restorative cosmetics are used to hide some bruising and discoloration on the
960. ARRB MD 182, ARRB Meeting Report, Interview of Joseph E. Hagan, May 17, 1996, p.3.
At the conclusion of the embalming process, the body is wrapped in plastic, then dressed in a blue-gray pinstripe suit, a white shirt, a blue tie with a pattern of light dots, and black shoes, which have been picked out and brought to the morgue by the president's friend and aide, Dave Powers. The president's hands are folded across his chest and a rosary laced through the fingers.961
961. ARRBMD181,ARRB Meeting Report,Interview of JohnVanHoesen,September26,1996,p.2;
ARRB MD 182, ARRB Meeting Report, Interview of Joseph E. Hagan, May 17, 1996, p.3; Man-
chester, Death of a President, p.433.
When they are finished, the body is lifted into a new casket—made of hand-rubbed, five-hundred-year-old African mahogany—lined in white rayon* (FOOTNOTE)
"The total bill for the 255-pound Marsellus 710 coffin from Gawler's and its accompanying 3,000-poun d Wilbert Triune/copper-lined vault is $3,160 (ARRB MD 130, Embalmers Personal Remarks; ARRB MD 134, Funeral Arrangements for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, November 22, 1963, p.l) .
that has been brought in to replace the Britannia casket damaged in Dallas.962
962. Manchester, Death of a President, p.432.
496 the Britannia casket damaged in Dallas: For more than a year, O’Neal’s Funeral Home in Dallas tried to collect the $3,995 bill for the Britannia casket and services rendered. The government’s General Services Administration (GSA) questioned the amount, though it finally paid on February 26, 1965, after O’Neal knocked $500 off the bill. O’Neal’s tenacity in seeking the payment was costly, however. The funeral home’s business in Dallas fell off 50 percent in the wake of the adverse publicity. (“Dallas Mortician for JFK Paid $3495,” Washington Post, Feb- ruary 27, 1965; ARRB MD 133)
Those who might look upon the president's face now will never know the brutal condition of his head just a few hours earlier .